Service in America? Bah! Humbug!

I’m barely old enough to remember customer service.

The last thing the world needs is another crank whining about the deplorable state of customer service in America – especially if it’s me. I’m barely old enough to remember customer service. (“Gee, Dad, do you mean there once were gas stations where anyone could get full service?”)

But as you make your rounds of the stores and malls this holiday season, ponder these incidents, which happened to me during a recent Saturday afternoon of shopping. I’m not sure what they mean, but the implications can’t be good.

And I’m not filled with confidence knowing the masterminds who developed these schemes are running what’s left of the U.S. economy.

The Greeter

I visited three stores, and in each store some poor sod was standing by the front door with a big grin, enthusiastically saying “Hi! How are you? Welcome to our store!” when a customer arrived, and “Goodbye! We’re so glad you came in! Thanks for coming to our store!” when a customer left.

The greeter didn’t do anything else – he or she didn’t wait on anyone, didn’t help out behind the cash register when the line was six deep, and didn’t restock the shelves.

Apparently, the greeter wanted to be my friend, when all I wanted was someone to point me in the direction of the blue jeans.

The Stander

Each of the stores I visited is a respected, well-known national retailer. In fact, they are always mentioned in the financial press as saviors of American retailing. Nevertheless, no one offered to help me in any of the stores.

What I got instead was an employee who stood just to the side of me, mouth slightly agape.

Sponsored Message

When I moved left, the employee moved left. When I moved right, he or she moved right. When I moved to the counter to pay for my purchases, he or she moved to the counter.

Apparently, management encourages this activity. A friend who once worked part-time at one of these stores said employees were instructed to make the customer come to them for assistance.

“Make the customer need you,” the boss said.

Obviously, the boss doesn’t do his or her own shopping.

The Doubter

When it was time to pay for my purchase, I encountered the third of modern retailing’s Holy Trinity: the clerk behind the checkout counter.

Sponsored Message

The clerk’s job is to ensure The Stander gets his or her commission.

“And who helped you find this?” the clerk asked me.

“No one,” I said.

“Oh, come now,” the clerk said, glancing at The Stander lurking somewhere in my shadow. “Surely someone assisted you.”

“No,” I said. “I walked over to the counter, saw the item, and picked it up all by myself.”

The clerk was so distraught that for a moment, I was afraid she would refuse to check me out.

It’s hard even for me to become angry at any of the employees, who are mostly young people. (And I shudder to imagine how little they are paid.) No matter how silly they act, I’m sure they are only following orders.

You can’t expect anyone who grew up with self-service shoe stores to know any better.


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